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What is the oldest living thing on Earth ?

Posted on Monday, 12 June, 2017 | Comment icon 24 comments

These ancient bristlecone pines certainly look their age. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Rick Goldwaser
When it comes to extremely long-lived life forms, trees and plants beat animals hands down every time.
Some animal species, such as the Galapagos giant tortoise, can live for almost two centuries, but there exist types of trees that are able to survive for much, much longer than that.

Actually dating trees by counting their rings might seem simple enough, but typically in order to do this it is necessary to chop the tree down, something that is obviously undesirable when you are attempting to find the world's oldest living organism.

One way to get around this is to use an increment borer - a special tool that can extract part of the tree's core without fatally damaging it. This, too, however is not without its risks, as evidenced by one particularly memorable mishap that occurred in the 1960s.

One scientist had been attempting to date a bristlecone pine tree when the drill bit snapped off inside the trunk. Not wishing to lose this expensive piece of equipment, he had the tree chopped down to retrieve it. It later turned out that that the tree had been 5,000 years old.

These days, some of the oldest known trees include a 2,222-year-old sacred fig tree in Sri Lanka and a 3,627-year-old Patagonian cypress tree in Chile.

The most ancient trees of all however can be found in California's White Mountains where many of the Great Basin bristlecone pines are believed to be more than 4,000 years old.

The oldest among them is thought to date back a staggering 5,067 years.

Source: BBC News | Comments (24)

Tags: Trees

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #15 Posted by Unfortunately on 14 June, 2017, 0:56
You're correct, coral are made up of colonies of polyps. Here's a national geographic link for more information:
Comment icon #16 Posted by Beelost on 14 June, 2017, 4:17
Entire coral reefs persist and grow for thousands of years.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Unfortunately on 14 June, 2017, 5:29
I don't think that's in debate, but coral reefs consist of hundreds/thousands of various coral species which in themselves consist of thousands/millions of little organisms called Polyps. Imagine it like the Polyps are the people, coral are the societies/communities and coral reefs are the civilizations. It's pretty cool when you think about it. Although each of these individual polyps don't tend to live a very long time, the initial polyp's'legacy' for lack of a better term extends the lifespan by incredible amounts. (I would say "generations of polyps" but each polyp is basically a clone o... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by Unfortunately on 14 June, 2017, 5:31
Giant sea monsters?
Comment icon #19 Posted by Myles on 14 June, 2017, 12:43
I think you put that very well. I don't think we can use "coral" in the discussion of animals that live a long time.
Comment icon #20 Posted by Unfortunately on 14 June, 2017, 13:07
Agreed and thank you. Though some polyps can still live a few hundred years which is pretty substantial I think, much like the hydra, their size or lackthereof kind of discounts them from this topic since we're mainly talking about larger organisms/animals
Comment icon #21 Posted by Myles on 14 June, 2017, 13:20
I think it is amazing that the Greenland shark can live 400 years. To think that one of these sharks today was alive when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth rock. Alive when the Taj Mahal was completed.
Comment icon #22 Posted by Unfortunately on 14 June, 2017, 13:35
Of course they probably couldn't care less why humans do the things we do, but it's amazing to realise that one singular individual could potentially have been sighted over multiple generations. It's difficult to comprehend what would go through the mind of something so resilient to time in comparison to us.
Comment icon #23 Posted by highdesert50 on 17 June, 2017, 13:51
I would speculate the oldest living thing is that which a human has yet to eat, use, or otherwise destroy out of fear.
Comment icon #24 Posted by taniwha on 17 June, 2017, 23:14
These trees are incredibly old and wise, if only they could talk, things they might tell us. Like, "Hey! What the hell do you think your doing with that chainsaw!"

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